Monday, December 23, 2013

A Brief History of Santa Claus

The holiday figure known as Santa Claus nowadays has his origins in the ancient past. The traditions and appearance associated with the modern Santa Claus consists of an amalgam of Christian traditions and pagan Germanic traditions.  Modern traditions and depictions of him are also inspired by Clement Clarke Moore’s popular poem “A Visit from Saint Nicholas” (“‘Twas the night before Christmas”) and songs like “Santa Claus is Coming to Town.” The images below are historical depictions of him and his predecessors.

Saint Nicholas
Saint Nicholas was a 4th century bishop in the town of Myra in what is now modern Turkey. He is known for secretly leaving gold in people’s shoes. In one case, a poor man had three daughters he couldn’t marry off so he was going to sell them into prostitution. Saint Nicholas left a bag of gold for him so he would have a dowry and could marry off his first daughter. Saint Nicholas did the same for his second daughter, but when it was time to marry the third daughter, the man waited up to see who his benefactor was, but Saint Nicholas dropped the gold down the chimney instead. (Image source)

Odin

Odin was a Norse god who was worshiped by Germanic peoples prior to Christian times. After the Germanic peoples converted to Christianity, some of the old Norse traditions from the Yule celebration were absorbed into Christianity.  Odin was known for having a long white beard and riding at night on an 8-legged horse called Sleipnir. (Image source)

Sinterklaas

Sinterklaas is a Dutch version of Saint Nicholas and dresses in a manner resembling a religious authority such as a Bishop or Cardinal. He is the gift bringer at Christmas in various European countries. (Image Source)

Father Christmas

Father Christmas is an older British version of Santa Claus. (Image source)

Santa Claus as depicted by Thomas Nast in the 1800's.

Thomas Nast is usually credited with designing the modern image of Santa Claus in his various portrayals of him in Harper’s Weekly during the 1800’s. (Image source)


Santa Claus in Coca-Cola ads

Coca-Cola has been credited with popularizing the image of Santa wearing red in their advertisements, but they did not invent the idea of Santa wearing red. Earlier depictions of Santa had him wearing various colors, including red. (Image source)

Sources: 1, 2, 3, 4
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